Leadership lessons from Asian model


As Kenya celebrates its Golden Jubilee and designs ways of becoming a middle-income economy by 2030, our leaders should take lessons from South East Asia.

The Asian Tigers were grappling with economic and social conditions similar to ours just a few decades ago, which makes them practical learning examples of how things should be done.

Of all transformative leaders in Asia, two stand out as perfect examples of how developing nations should be led.

They are Lee Kuan Yew, who steered Singapore from Third World to First in 30 years, and Deng Xiaoping, credited with lifting China from a backward nation to the second largest economy in the world today.

When Lee took over Singapore in 1959 it was at the same level with Kenya, or worse.

Assembling a team of the country’s best brains from all sectors, he initiated radical policies that, although resisted by many Singaporeans in the beginning, catapulted the country to being the home of the highest number of millionaires in the world today.

Lee and Deng inculcated stringently structured mechanisms to promote and monitor productivity in public institutions. This was achieved through national productivity centres, which designed policies and structures to spur productivity in ministries  and parastatals through training and meritorious promotions.

The public sector in Kenya today is slow and lacks the drive to spearhead a culture of national efficiency and work ethic. We still need a national productivity centre to enhance efficiency at the middle to lower levels of government.

To manage the chronic traffic snarl-ups, the Ministry of Transport can learn from the radical Singaporean policy that requires car owners to apply for a certificate of entitlement, which is a State-issued ownership license.

In the war against corruption, Singapore and China provide a classic example since their systems drastically reduced the vice to manageable levels. Both created powerful anti-graft bodies and introduced heavy fines and long jail terms, which cut across social status. Let Kenya replicate policies, practices and systems that made ASEAN states global economic and political powerhouses.

The writer is a reporter for ‘The Nairobian’.